Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A quibble with the 100 things not to do

Some of you have asked me to comment on a New York Time article by Bruce Buscell titled "100 things restaurant staffers should never do (part 1)"

Many of things are just common sense and normal human decency like # 1. Do not let anyone enter the restaurant without a warm greeting. Or #2. Do not make a singleton feel bad. Do not say, “Are you waiting for someone?” Ask for a reservation. Ask if he or she would like to sit at the bar.

Other "don'ts" aren't quite as black and white. I disagree with the following don'ts for the following reasons:

7. Do not announce your name. No jokes, no flirting, no cuteness.

Studies have shown that waiters who tell guests their names make better tips. I believe it's because the person your serving is forced to remember that you're a person/fellow human being and that might lead him or her to think you, like him or her, have bills to pay and feelings that would be hurt by inconsiderate tips. Maybe saying your name would be out of line in some stiff restaurants where guests prefer to think of their waitress as a servant.

11. Do not hustle the lobsters. That is, do not say, “We only have two lobsters left.” Even if there are only two lobsters left.

If it's a busy night in the restaurant where you're dining and you want lobster, would you want to know there are only two left? Just asking.

17. Do not take an empty plate from one guest while others are still eating the same course. Wait, wait, wait.

I hate sitting there with an empty plate in front of me and I hate having a full plate in front of me when I'm finished, that stands whether the person I'm with is finished or not. Take it away, I say. And that's why I clear plates before everyone is finished. Some people even hand me their plates while their companions are still scooting peas around with their forks.

31. Never remove a plate full of food without asking what went wrong. Obviously, something went wrong.

What if the guest doesn't want to talk about it? She has diarrhea or the guy she's with called her fat?

32. Never touch a customer. No excuses. Do not do it. Do not brush them, move them, wipe them or dust them.

What if they're wearing something really soft?

37. Do not drink alcohol on the job, even if invited by the guests. “Not when I’m on duty” will suffice.

Isn't free booze part of the employee benefit package at most restaurants? No health insurance or paid vacation, but a free glass of wine to take the edge off those mean rednecks who stiffed you can make it possible to smile at the next table that asks for sweet tea.

38.Do not call a guy a “dude.”

Even if he has long blond hair and wears board shorts?

40. Never say, “Good choice,” implying that other choices are bad.

I disagree with this one in earnest. It makes the guest feel accomplished. It's not that other choices are bad, but this person is special and identified the best thing on the menu all by him or herself. I feel proud of myself when waiters congratulate me on my choice and I like to reward my cleverest customers with a little proverbial pat on the back.

42. Do not compliment a guest’s attire or hairdo or makeup. You are insulting someone else.

So not true. If I compliment your date's sense of style, I'm simultaneously complimenting yours.

43. Never mention what your favorite dessert is. It’s irrelevant.

Unless it really is the best.

49. Never mention the tip, unless asked.

Or if it's a foreigner who has left you 3 percent and you feel it's your duty to all the servers this European will stiff after you on his vacation. Letting him leave without a gentle, "was there something wrong with the service?" and brief explanation of U.S. tipping customs is like setting your friend up with a guy you know has Herpes.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The one that got away

I have decided that quitting a job is a lot like breaking up with a significant other.

I have nearly no experience with break-ups. I’ve only broken up with one boy –– ever. Luckily, we did it twice, so I got twice the experience out of the one relationship. One of the break-ups was a nice, civilized “let’s be friends” break-up and the other was one of those “I hate you and hope you have many divorces and never find happiness” types. In that order, clearly.

While I have precious little experience ending romantic entanglements, I have walked away from well over 100 jobs. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve had more jobs than anyone else I have ever known - even people with decades on me. I even had a competition a few years back with the one person I thought might hold a candle to my employment inferno. I won by a bar napkin full of employers.

To be fair, most of these employers weren’t looking for anything serious from me. They never asked for or wanted a commitment. Some of the jobs lasted only one day, others just a week or two, and we both knew at the start that was how it would be. I always left knowing I could knock on the door if I wanted back in and they could call if they wanted me back. But usually it wasn’t worth the effort. It was more exciting to find another short-term offer somewhere else.

Even my more serious long-term and meaningful jobs have been paired with mistress service positions – PBS and Applebees in New York, The Post Independent and The Brickyard Restaurant in Western Colorado and now The News&Guide and The Gun Barrel in Jackson Hole.

I’ve come to the realization that I’m a sort of slutty employee.

But, gosh darn it, I’m a good employee. I have a serious work ethic and always want to feel like I’m doing a good job. I’ll sell more Panasonic cameras than any of the other promo people. I’ll get more poor fools to sign up for an MNBA credit card with a bad interest rate than anybody else with a stack full of oversized free tee-shirts. I’ll file the beegeezes out of your moldy paperwork. I’ll sign up a record number of roughnecks for your Shell gas card and I’ll write so many newspaper stories in a single sitting that I forget how to spell my own name.

But I digress.

I’ve left a lot of jobs. I’ve never been fired. I’ve never been laid off (though I’ve always kind of wanted a severance). And I’ve never left on bad terms. I’ve always left feeling like I could go back and my old employer would be happy to have me.

Can you imagine if this was romantic relationships? What a bitch, right? Who do I think I am? A girl like that will end up alone and miserable – or at least, we all secretly hope she will.

And maybe I will end up unemployed and desperate. Or at least, maybe you secretly hope I will.

I don’t know. But it’s rough this time around. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and I feel like I should have some semblance of stability in my life. Most of my friends are buying houses, getting married, having babies, those things adults do. Or maybe it’s because this has been the most amazing job I’ve ever had. I mean the News&Guide. Though I also doubt I’ll ever find a restaurant as well organized, relaxed, consistent and lucrative as the Gun Barrel has been.

I have two weeks left at the News&Guide. The editors there are the best I’ve ever worked with. They care about the paper. The owners, who live in town and work in the office with us, love the paper and care about it. The people who write for the paper care about the community and care about their work as reporters. There is so much passion in that office. I have a feeling the New York Times staff would be jealous if they came to visit.

I have grown at the News&Guide. I’m better for having worked there. But it’s also the most independent job I think there is, aside from maybe working at Google. I make my own schedule. There’s a priority in the office on balance and the outdoors. I’m sure I’ll never find that with another job. The News&Guide has ruined me for other employers. I don’t know if I will ever be able to work for someone again.

When I decided not to go to graduate school this spring, a big part of my decision was that I loved the News&Guide and I loved Jackson. I was so in love. But all along, I’ve wondered if this paper and this town was “the one.”

If I’d been sure, I never would have applied for graduate school to begin with. There’s something out there. I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but I think that just increases my chances of finding “it.”

So, yet again I’m leaving on good terms. And if I find out I can’t live without this life, I hope, I can come back.

I only ever break up with employers in that “we can still be friends” way. It’s just hard because I want to run to the editors and say, “it’s not you, it’s me.” I know they’ve heard it all before a hundred times. They’ve taken so many break-ups over the years from young adventurous reporters coming and going, they do it like professionals. It’s not that big of a deal.

And even though I know this is the right thing to do and the healthy thing to do, I still sometimes cry when I think about it and sort of want them to come chasing after me saying “don’t go, don’t go, we love you.”

And I know that for the rest of my life, I will wonder how it would have been if I’d decided to stay forever.